News Flash — USFS Closes Access from Telluride Resort to Bear Creek

Post by blogger | December 9, 2010      

A number of people own land in Bear Creek near Telluride resort. To enjoy Bear Creek backcountry skiing people backcountry ski through boundary gates at the resort, and after they do so may cross such private property. This used to not be an issue, and indeed the resort is saying they have a prescriptive (historical use) easement over the property and may fight for it. But recently the resort explored running commercial guided touring in Bear Creek, and the guided trips would probably have crossed the private property. The resort going public with their plans ostensibly alerted the property owners, who since made it clear they will not allow trespassing on their land. Newspaper reports today indicate that the land owners have won a skirmish in what I believe will be a long term battle.

Somehow the land owners convinced the USFS to close the public backcountry access gates that people use to access Bear Creek from the resort. Though other gates exist, this effectively closes a large part of Bear Creek skiing to public access. As I understand it, a person still has the right to ski into Bear Creek from the resort, and can do so legally, but the resort can pull his ski pass if he is caught. In other words, if you hike up the resort and don’t have a pass, then ski into Bear Creek, you have a perfect right to do so. Locals, please correct me if I’m wrong.

At any rate, first, since I’m a strong advocate for recreation access it literally nauseates me that the USFS closed those gates (or forced the resort to do so). Second, notorious land developer Tom Chapman is one of the land owners. Chapman is known for being involved with land where plans for development may offend people, which in turn may use the leverage of public sentiment to force profitable sales and land exchanges for him or his associates. While no one can of course see inside Chapman’s head, I’d call it pretty likely that sort of thing is going on here as well.

Whatever your opinion about public rights vs private property rights, you have to admit Chapman knows what he’s doing. Now he and his partners have a chunk of land the ski resort could use and the public wants as well. Crystal ball tells me you’ll see a sale of Chapman’s land to Telluride Resort or a land trust within a few years. By the way, don’t blame it all on Chapman. By caving to this sort of thing, the USFS and various land trusts drive the process. That’s another important issue that I won’t digress to here, but is worth mentioning to keep the Chapman flames from getting out of hand.

Perhaps the weirdest thing about this whole situation is that it didn’t happen sooner, or that Telluride resort didn’t buy those properties years ago — that lack of vision is astounding.

Bear Creek area and Telluride Ski Resort.

Bear Creek area and Telluride Ski Resort. Map used by permission,

Map above from shows the band of private property that many skiers have to make a nearly mandatory crossing of to backcountry ski in the area.

Newspaper article here.

Good article here as well.

Comments, anyone?


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47 Responses to “News Flash — USFS Closes Access from Telluride Resort to Bear Creek”

  1. Lou December 9th, 2010 11:36 am

    I’ll start, by moving and editing my comment about this I’d placed on another post.

    Brian, I hear you about the land issues out your way. But the resort running guided tours isn’t exactly less capitalistic than a land owner exerting his property rights. As for unguided folks crossing the private land, hey, if it’s not posted my understanding is they have a perfect right to. Also, I know it’s a tired issue but land ownership does involve liability for folks that get hurt on the owned land, and sometimes land owners would rather just post their land and keep people out, rather than dealing with buying more insurance, and paying lawyers just to get advice on how to deal with such a thing. What I’m saying is the issue has at least two sides, perhaps even three since the resort wanted to run a commercial operation over someone’s private land.

    But before I get pigeon holed as a Chapman lover, let me say one of my pet peeves in Colorado is how private land is tending more and more to block access to public land, and the USFS seems to do little about it when they could actually scrap and fight for historical easements, and the gov even holds the trump card as they have condemnation rights!

    Also, if the USFS actually closed gates normally used by the public to access public land, just to help a couple of private land owners prevent trespassing, that is totally bogus. The USFS has a job. Their job is to manage public land. Their job isn’t to fool around with creating buffer zones to help private land owners! If the USFS is doing what it says in the article I read, that is just sickening.


    I guess all I’m saying is this whole deal is nuanced, but I do agree it seems to be going down in a pretty strange way a the moment.

  2. dave downing December 9th, 2010 11:37 am

    thanks for calling Chapman out so well. Said it better than i could have.

    One note, it sounded like the USFS asked TelSki to offer guided skiing. So essentially the USFS asked for a service that would call notice to backcountry skiing in the area that would allow them to have reason to close the gates! Conspiracy!!! 😯

  3. Lou December 9th, 2010 11:55 am

    Dave, if that happened it does sound weird on the surface. But the USFS has plenty of “right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing” type of stuff going on all the time. The part that seems weird to me is that they’d close those gates. Heck, Colorado is riddled with private property that people hike over, hunt over, ride horses over, etc. and the USFS doesn’t do anything to prevent that. Then a few property owners whine, and they block access to one of the most popular backcountry skiing areas near Telluride? That does seem mighty strange.

  4. Matt Kinney December 9th, 2010 11:56 am

    Seems like they only closed one gate. Is this blown out of proportion? If I was “President For A Day” I would close all gates leading out of ski areas simply from a safety and avalanche concerns. I know many disagree with this view, so I will ski more and not give it another thought or typed word. 🙂

    Anyway hidden in the main article was this….

    The USFS states “Skiers can (STILL) reach national forest lands from the (TELLURIDE) ski area by using other access points”.

    Is it time for a map?

  5. Lou December 9th, 2010 12:10 pm

    Matt, we’re talking about specific gates that reach an important area for backcountry skiing, that’s my understanding anyway. I edited a bit to make it clear there are still other gates to the backcountry.

    Yes, probably time for a map. Anyone from Telluride know of one we can grab?

  6. mike moulton December 9th, 2010 12:52 pm

    Chapman sounds like a sleeze, but……No tresspassing on private property means just that and as a mountain land owner it dosen’t seem like too much to ask.

  7. Nick December 9th, 2010 12:56 pm

    Going to be some pissed off people… I wonder if the ski patrol will actually enforce this? Perhaps they’ll have to to maintain relations with the USFS.
    Sounds like the contention gate is closed too, that would mean lower bear creek as well as upper- essentially all of bear creek then except for the Palmyra gate into Lena Basin? Alta is still open, but that is a completely different experience. No more slack country ski laps at Telluride…

  8. Lou December 9th, 2010 1:00 pm

    Nick, as an expert thanks for chiming in. Do you know of a map of some sort we could publish?

  9. Bill December 9th, 2010 1:15 pm

    It’s unfortunate that a bright person couldn’t generate great personal weath by doing something that makes people happy as opposed to the opposite.

    By the way, the cost to insure liability on vacant land is either $0 if owned personally (covered automatically under your homeowners insurance) or costs very little if owned otherwise.

  10. Lou December 9th, 2010 1:49 pm

    Dongshow, exactly, that’s what I can’t figure out and neither the newspaper reporters nor the USFS information adds any clarity. Anyone have any idea why the resort or the USFS would do this? It sounds really strange to me, as there are chunks of private property all over Colorado that are exactly the same (in that people ski or hike over them after leaving a resort.) Perhaps Chapman has bought up all such property and this is just the beginning (grin)?

  11. dongshow December 9th, 2010 1:04 pm

    I don’t understand how either Telluride or the USFS are obligated to do something about people trespassing on private property. Shouldn’t the duty and cost fall to this Chapman character. I’d encourage him to try building a fence.

  12. greg December 9th, 2010 2:08 pm

    There is a good, detalied map on the TGR forum post by OphirPow. It shows a narrow strip of private land across the middle of Bear Creek. May be some one more tech savvy than I could post it here too.

  13. Lou December 9th, 2010 2:19 pm

    I’ll get a map posted here. Sometimes things like that take me a while as I have quite a bit more respect for web property and copyright than folks over at TGR do (grin). The map displayed on TGR is apparently hotlinked copyrighted web content from Telluride Watch, see

    Perhaps the TGR posters got permission to use it (though I doubt it), so I’ll drop Telluride Watch a message and ask.


  14. Lou December 9th, 2010 5:12 pm

    Thanks Gonzo, I emailed and they gave us permission to publish their map, with credit of course. Sorry I mis-wrote about trespass laws. Did you pay your $30 yet (grin)?

  15. Nick December 9th, 2010 5:36 pm

    The Watch article describes the closures more clearly- “…remove the backcountry access points along Gold Hill Ridge” and
    “A fourth gate near Palmyra Peak would be relocated to the upper Prospect Ridge between Mountain Quail and Palmyra Peak, providing access to the Alta Lakes Basin, while the Contention (near the top of Lift 9) and Alta Saddle (south of Bald Mountain) access points will remain at their current locations.”

    So, lower Bear Creek is still open via the Contention gate (but that barely counts as backcountry since they added the gate- it now gets bumped out), and you now have 3 gates into Alta Lakes. Bummer…..

  16. Lou December 9th, 2010 5:51 pm

    By all reports, really sounds like a step backwards.

    Nick, has not Telluride Resort been using the Bear Creek backcountry access as part of their PR story? Let me know… Thanks, Lou

  17. gonzoskijohnny December 9th, 2010 4:59 pm

    thanks for the nice map lou-
    guess i’ve (unknowing) tresspassed yet again!
    Yup Chapman is at it again, and the FS is just too slack to do much for us BC skiiers- they mostly just ski inbounds with free passes from the ski area anyway. This plays nicely into the ski corp + FS hands- close it to get public pressure, then get some public lands group to buy it for the FS, then let the ski corp manage the public lands via gates and “guiding”- $$ ch-ching for the resort, no effort needed for the FS.
    I wonder just what the FS is going to do with the summer trail that crosses through the southern part of the pvt land (isn’t it part of the hard rock 100 run?)? Maybe they will fight for a legal “proscriptive” access for it, but doesn’t that also grant an over snow easement too? Maybe it will just be “closed” as now is skiing, untill it gets bought for the FS.
    BTW- tresspass where land is unfenced and unsigned is indeed illegal-
    about a $30 fine as a petty (sub-misdemeaner) offense (but a bit nastier if hunting and DOW are involved).

  18. Nick December 9th, 2010 6:12 pm

    A few steps backwards considering Telluride has been pushing its image as an ‘extreme’ destination in recent years. When they realized how popular Bear Creek was becoming they started opening up more exciting inbounds terrain- Black Iron Bowl, Palmyra Peak, and the Gold Hill Chutes. I think their marketing uses it to appeal to people who don’t even necessarily ski that type of terrain but like the idea of it and want to ski somewhere cool and exciting. Hence Revelation Bowl, a yawn of a ski except for the fact that it is in Bear Creek and is swimming in views of very exciting terrain.

  19. Ed December 9th, 2010 6:52 pm

    Come to Canada – Much Much Snow, Friendly People, Space, where on a trip you don’t see a plane overhead for . . . a month or two (only experience I have is a canoe trip but I embellish) . . .
    I shake my head and hope we don’t go this way . . .

  20. Lou December 9th, 2010 6:55 pm

    Nick, well, with the marketing of “extreme” in mind, I’m thinking there is no way the resort is going to just walk away from providing access to that area. I’ll bet something will develop. Also, there must be a huge citizen culture of Bear Creek skiers by now, perhaps they’ll step up?

  21. Nick December 9th, 2010 7:34 pm

    Ya there are some core groups who go out the gate every day of the season, I’m sure they’ll just poach it (like lower bear creek was done for years before the gate was added). Shouldn’t be too difficult if the gold hill chutes are open. But yeah, hopefully there is some outcry. Local public opinion is pretty divided about bear creek- there are those who don’t want the ski area involved at all (and are likely pissed that the ski area may have ignited the closures), and those who want some form of ski area involvement, ranging from avy control to chairlifts. I’m sure they can all unite against Chapman and the USFS’s asinine behavior though.

  22. Brian Hessling December 9th, 2010 10:19 pm

    Hey everybody, getting back into this discussion a little late. Lou, I agree that my railing against capitalism was a little knee jerk. Here in Durango we’ve been having this same battle over a land swap near Haviland lake involving a golf resort. I certainly feel that the resort is jumping all over the b.c. thing and them getting in the guiding game and might have been the tipping point. There was a pretty good article a few issues back in Powder about Tellurides new “access”. Long time b.c. people have a right to be feeling edgy. Everybody wants a piece….

  23. Clint Viebrock December 9th, 2010 11:05 pm

    The interesting thing to me is that the vehicle for these land grabs is the General Mining Act of 1872, which was specifically designed to allow the extraction of valuable minerals on public lands. Does anyone familiar with this issue picture Tom Chapman with a pick and shovel? Didn’t think so.

    The ski corp’s hold on the back country skier is the right to pull a season’s pass. If one enters other than through Telski controlled property it’s a fairly simple issue of trespass or not trespass. However, before the gates were put in, USFS occasionally took the position that BC skiers exiting from Bear Creek MUST have ridden the lifts and ducked the ropes.

  24. Nick December 9th, 2010 11:45 pm

    True, there is a nasty history of the USFS pepper spraying and arresting skiers in bear creek before the gates were in place. Thanks for reminding me Clint.

  25. Anonymous December 10th, 2010 1:22 am

    If you’re upset about this, contact this person.

  26. Anonymous December 10th, 2010 1:34 am
  27. Lou December 10th, 2010 8:42 am

    Anon, how about some links that work?

  28. Andrew December 10th, 2010 10:04 am

    I thought CO was a huge, wide open place where you could hunt, shoot, ATV, sled and do whatever you wanted, and now I’m hearing that it is actually a bit like Wasangles..??!!

  29. Lou December 10th, 2010 10:23 am

    Andrew, mix and match… good point, but what happens is the resorts concentrate use and issues. The vast majority of the state is indeed wide open. Amazingly wide open. But really, so is Utah, and heck, even California, really. In my opinion, you have to go to central Europe or parts of our Northeast to really see population, contrary to many folk’s end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it view of things out here in the wild west.

  30. Jim Moss December 10th, 2010 10:32 am

    Find people who for 18 years have recreated on the land and sue for ownership under Colorado Revised Statute 38-41-101. Limitation of eighteen years. 18 years of continuous use by the people of Telluride and you can own it.

  31. Lou December 10th, 2010 10:39 am

    Jim, why the heck don’t people do that more?

  32. Anonymous December 10th, 2010 11:26 am

    Here are the email addresses and phone numbers of the pertinent Forest Service personnel to contact if you wish to comment on their decision.

    Judy Schutza

    Scott Spielman

  33. Chris Beh December 10th, 2010 12:09 pm

    Lou, you’ve been a strong voice for access to public lands. Is there any advocacy group that works on access for human powered or BC skiing and issues like this T’ride deal or the Sopris access that was a recent topic? Maybe a letter writing campaign to Senator Udall could start to get some public push back going. One would hope Senator Udall would be a willing advocate for this sort of issue, especially access for human powered skiing. Didn’t he run Colorado Outward Bound? I know he was pretty much a dirt bag climber and skier in his youth.

  34. gonzoskijohnny December 10th, 2010 11:41 am

    sorry about this long sidebar here lou- but since it is kinda interesting, and my job: Clint- 1872 mining law – an interesting item-
    It was enacted in 1872 to discover america’s mineral wealth and help settle the west.
    It gives patent (title) to land and minerals to any miner who found a discovery of a valuable mineral, locates a claim, does significant (in 1872 $) annual assessment work, makes significant mining improvements, and can show the mineral can be extracted, transported, marketed and sold at a profit. Once title is recieved, it is private land and anyone can do anthing they want (almost) on their now private land.
    An example- Union Park City Mining – now know as Park City Ski Resort:
    Mining claims pattented to private land (1800s), mining now done (1982), why not use as a ski resort?
    “Metal production data for the Park City district includes (through 1982): gold (1.5 million ounces), silver (253 million ounces), copper (129 million pounds), lead (2.7 billion pounds), and zinc (1.5 billion pounds)”

    Teluride (upper part of town) has similar history:
    So what we have in Bear canyon is what were once a few isolated federal mining claims, that are now simply private lands (patented through the 1872 mining law), with a jerk landowner.
    And i agree with Jim M- why doesn’t either town of teluride, san miguel county, teleski, or USFS pursue legal ROW via the 18 yr use state statuate?

  35. Lou December 10th, 2010 12:45 pm

    Chris, definitely some public apathy regarding this stuff. Here in Colorado a lot of energy went to trying to restrict snowmobilers from non-Wilderness land over the past years, when that energy would have been better spent on issues such as private property blockage of public land. But snowmobilers are easy to see and hate… human nature, I guess.

  36. DV December 10th, 2010 1:43 pm

    Two words: prescriptive easement!

  37. mtnrunner2 December 10th, 2010 1:55 pm

    Private property owners have every right to buy property and try to make money from it, so I can’t board that particular bandwagon.

    What I don’t understand in this particular case is why a property owner would block access, when amicable use arrangements exist all over the state? Every such easement started with private property that had no such access. It’s something to consider aiming for.

    Sometimes it’s liability. In the case of the summit of Mount Bross, the issue is apparently the difficulty of locating the landowners but also that of liability for accidents on mining property. However, I see no good reason why property owners should be held responsible for the mistakes of recreational users. Such bad laws necessarily have a chilling effect on what could otherwise be more open arrangements, and in my opinion should be changed. Then, property owners would have one less reason to deny access.

    More than anything, this is a case for private acquisition by a conservation trust. Public lands are subject to the whims of politics, whereas holdings by conservation groups are not.

  38. cory December 10th, 2010 1:56 pm

    “Here in Colorado a lot of energy went to trying to restrict snowmobilers from non-Wilderness land over the past years, when that energy would have been better spent on issues such as private property blockage of public land.”

    Wow Lou, I’m not even sure what to do with that statement. Are you saying, for people who support quiet use to quit wasting time on snowmobiles and start working on opening up both public and private land so snowmobiles, atvs, etc. can have more land to roar their way through? How do you see this as furthering their goals? Or would you rather they stop thinking for themselves and take up your goals?

  39. Lou December 10th, 2010 3:02 pm

    Cory, I knew that would get a word out of you!

  40. cory December 10th, 2010 3:34 pm

    You definitely can get me going 😀

  41. Zip Your Lips December 10th, 2010 4:43 pm

    While Chapman is an pain, the gates being closed is more of a Tel Ski thing than a private land owner issue. The FS here has said several times that they maintain the gates but Tel Ski has told them when they are opening/closing them. It has been an issue for a while. The guided skiing was one more way for the resort to make money, not nesisarly a bad thing. What was bad was the “snow study” than ran under special use permit to map all the avalanche paths in Bear Creek, with explosives of course. Just for information purposes of course. That is what got Chapman interested in Bear Creek to begin with. The resort has done a online survey asking about a new lift into Delta Bowl, now that guiding is out of the question. So basically this whole thing has been a land grab, aided, willingly or not, by the FS and Chapman. Sorry for the rant, just angry!

  42. Clint Viebrock December 11th, 2010 1:12 am

    Several of the above posts reflect my thoughts on this matter:

    1. Right of use statutes exist; in the Summer, Wasatch trail (in this particular instance) has been in public use for at least several decades. I WILL be hiking Upper Bear Creek this Summer.

    2. Tom Chapman’s interest in the Bear Creek mining claims is what his interest in these things has always been: buy a mostly worthless claim and either get USFS to trade for developable property, or get other parties to buy him out. I think the thing to do is not to panic, use the land around his claims anyway. I don’t think I’ll have to go to jail, but it would be worth it.

  43. Seppo December 13th, 2010 5:00 pm

    I am flabbergasted here. This is not so much about Chapman, but about private property rights in general. Telluride has not been such a good neighbor in general to a number of people, so distrust is rampant. Simply look at all of the comments on this page alone about how the land should be taken from them. Remember, a number of those claims have been in some families for generations and certainly approaching or exceeding 100 years for on many. To the best of my knowledge nobody approached the land owners and asked to buy their lands so people could ski on them. But now many are demanding that they be taken. Whatever happened to good neighbors? How many of those land owners have ever been contacted, or even thanked that their lands were enjoyed by others over the years? Telluride has to be more of less contentious place if it ever wants to move forward with ease regarding issues such as this. Valley Floor was a perfect example of being forceful and ultimately costing everyone more money and not making any friends in the process.

  44. Lou December 13th, 2010 5:13 pm

    Seppo, I also found Chapman’s take to be eye opening. Two sides to every story and all that. While I see his points, I also have no doubt in my mind that private land ownership has to be balanced with public good, but that’s an ongoing process and debate without pat answers and easy solutions. I spoke with Chapman on the phone and can say he comes across as a pretty reasonable guy, not some sort of mean fanatic as he’s been portrayed here and there. But he is most certainly very strongly on the private property rights side.

    As for Bear Creek, I hope it gets worked out. What a cool place, if it really is blocked to most backcountry skiing use, then that’s a shame.

    I don’t like seeing this happen, but on the other hand as a longtime Colorado backcountry public lands user, I’m well aware of dozens of similar chunks of land that could just as easily block access to cool places. And virtually nothing is being done about it. So Chapman raising awareness could in the long run be very positive. In fact, I’ve met people who LIKED private land blockage as they viewed it as another way of keeping those pesky humans out of the Wilderness. Likewise, I’m sure there are folks out there who’d just as soon see Bear Creek made into a nature preserve that excluded humans. Perhaps Chapman can work a deal with them, if recreation advocates can’t make it happen.

  45. Lou December 13th, 2010 5:18 pm

    Please leave additional comments on our more recent Bear Creek post:

  46. Clint Viebrock December 13th, 2010 5:25 pm

    I fear you have not been paying attention to this particular discussion. In the case of the Bear Creek closure at issue here, we are talking about old mining claims that have not been worked for decades, on PUBLIC land, over which the public has hiked, climbed, skied for at least the quarter century I have lived here. Now come individuals whose reason for purchasing these holdings seems to be closing off access so that some entity (USFS, private conservation groups,etc.) will feel it necessary to buy them out.

    Take a look at the maps early in this series of comments: note that the property in question sits astride “choke points” in the Bear Creek drainage and represents a tiny fraction of the public land in Upper Bear Creek.

    In addition, overtures have been made to these owners. The result? Stonewall.

  47. Lou December 13th, 2010 5:31 pm

    Folks, leave additional comments on our more recent Bear Creek post, please.

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